The need for healthcare automation is long overdue. Visiting any healthcare institution, we all expect the full attention of the personnel. But unfortunately, this is often not the case. You may argue that new technologies in healthcare help treat patients more effectively. However, we are still missing physicians who spend less than 50 percent of their time on direct patient care. Why? Because healthcare today is riddled with bureaucracy and routine that have little to no relation to the Hippocratic Oath. We are talking about:
- Administrative tasks. Doctors and nurses are always busy scheduling appointments, processing registrations, answering phone calls, and dealing with other red tape.
- Billing. Processing insurance claims and invoices is a tedious task that requires time and dedication. Medical personnel must fill in endless details daily instead of performing their direct responsibilities.
- Data entry. As if processing invoices and claims is not enough, doctors spend six hours a day putting information into electronic health records.
- Desktop medicine. This term covers the miscellaneous activities that a doctor performs at a computer. It includes prescription refills, ordering diagnostic tests, online communication with staff or patients requesting a consultation, and others. Desktop medicine is a typical part of day-to-day work but too much of it becomes overwhelming and takes up most of the medical staff’s time.
These and many other related activities take up physicians’ time and prevent them from interacting with their patients.
The importance of human contact in healthcare
As social beings, we are inclined towards interacting with other humans. For example, we recognize human faces and facial expressions better than anything else. In addition, the fact that social isolation and loneliness are the primary risk factors for suicide is well-known. People have an underlying need to interact with other people in any form. Though it looks like the rise of healthcare automation solutions can frustrate this need greatly.
How? Well, most people think that their healthcare needs are unique. So, algorithms and automation in healthcare cannot address them properly. In 2019, there was a scandal around Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fremont, CA, when a doctor informed a terminally ill patient about their inevitable demise using a telecom robot. The patient, who was expected to live a couple more days, died the next day.
Public reaction was immediate. The medical center and the doctor were sharply criticized. Telling someone they are dying requires direct human contact accompanied by compassion, empathy, and warmth. Instead, the doctor turned bad news into a cold statement of fact by opting for healthcare technologies.
On the other hand, there is the story of Caitlin Kelly, the New York Times journalist diagnosed with breast cancer. In her column, she describes her experience of biopsy and other diagnostic procedures, emphasizing how a simple act of sympathy from medical personnel comforted her:
“I was fearful of the procedure and its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.”
These two examples illustrate a simple fact: a direct connection between a patient and a doctor matters. No matter how sophisticated the technology, healthcare automation cannot substitute live human interaction altogether.
However, physicians are drowning in paperwork, and they must spend as much time on EHR software as seeing the patient. So, it is no surprise that automation in healthcare has become a necessity, especially when it comes to administrative and bureaucratic procedures. Half of U.S. healthcare providers will invest money in robotic process automation in the next three years. Questions like, “Should we delegate patient care and treatment to AI and algorithms?” will probably remain ambiguous for many years. But what we know for sure is that healthcare automation can eliminate bureaucracy for good.
New technologies in healthcare that can bring humanity back to medical practice
Automating routine tasks unrelated to treatment and care can bring the human touch back to healthcare. By delegating paperwork, logistics, and administration to bots, physicians will have more time and emotional resources to establish closer connections with their patients.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the solutions that can help physicians achieve this.
1. RPA-powered front-office support
A typical day of a caregiver is overwhelmed with miscellaneous secretarial and administrative tasks like:
- Aligning patients’ requests with doctors’ office hours
- Making and answering phone calls
- Gathering and tracking patients’ information
- Rescheduling appointments if a doctor is suddenly unavailable, and more
These low-value duties inexpediently waste human resources that could be allocated elsewhere. In all the above-mentioned cases, communication between medical staff and patients is purely functional. So, AI chatbots can take on those activities without affecting the patient’s experience.
RPA solutions for administrative assistance are available 24/7, as well as being more affordable and more accurate than human employees. Since patients mainly contact the front office online or over the phone, the use of neural language processing, machine learning, and computer vision can make interactions with bots natural and seamless.
Finally, nurses and other personnel previously engaged in front-office tasks will be able to switch to more important activities such as providing direct care to patients.
2. Automated billing and insurance claims processing
Claims management is a large part of daily operations at any medical institution. The healthcare industry spends about $400 billion annually on billing-related administrative activities. Additionally, since over 90 percent of Americans have insurance coverage, processing insurance claims is an inevitable part of day-to-day work. Thousands of medical workers must check, evaluate, and input insurance data and deal with non-compliance issues. Statistically, up to 40 percent of insurance claims are ineligible due to the lack of regulatory compliance.
These processes seem like perfect candidates for intelligent healthcare automation. For instance, solutions like Akasa, BSWH, or Olive AI enable error-free calculations with little to no human intervention while providing fast and accurate data recognition and input.
3. Intelligent document processing (IDP)
Healthcare is a document-dependent industry that requires clinicians to fill out multiple forms, add information to EHR systems, digitize patient data from legacy systems, and perform many other activities unrelated to treatment administration and care provision.
Meanwhile, modern healthcare automation solutions can extract, recognize, comprehend, and process different information with the help of optical character recognition, natural language processing, and machine learning technologies. That means that paperwork can be optimized and done in the background while physicians focus on more critical tasks.
4. Inventory and supply chain management
Medical institutions require a plethora of supplies to function correctly. Some types of inventories needed daily include:
- Apparel (masks, surgical and patient gowns, caps, shoe covers, gloves)
- Consumables (syringes, catheters, gauze pads, bandages, needles, bottles, test tubes)
- Surgical instruments (scalpels, scissors, forceps, clamps, retractors)
- Mobility aid (carts, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, crutches), and more
Institutions have well-established procedures to keep track of the necessary supplies, prevent their shortages, and purchase and distribute them. Unfortunately, these procedures often involve medical staff wasting their time looking for supplies and manually inputting related data into multiple systems for documentation purposes.
Meanwhile, automation of these workflows can help personnel stay focused on patient management and care instead of supply administration.
Today, healthcare is probably one of the most document-dependent industries. Medical staff members are often overloaded with paperwork to the extent that they can dedicate less than half of their time to direct patient care.
Among all the new technologies in healthcare, intelligent process automation looks like the perfect solution to this problem. Bots can do inventory and supply management to free personnel from monitoring stocks, browsing vendors, and documenting items manually. Additionally, they can take front-office, billing, and claim processing functions off the nurses’ shoulders. With RPA, hospitals can automate the entire document flow while reducing the number of errors and ensuring regulatory compliance.
All in all, healthcare automation will not take humanity out of medical care. It can rather bring physicians closer to patients by freeing them from mundane, tedious work. If you want to free your employees from the routine, contact us for a free consultation.